A sleepy southern town receives an alarming wake up call the day Fatlinda Paloka moves in. As the self proclaimed matriarch of an Albanian family she has planted roots in Greenville, Georgia, opening a pizza store with food that is so addictive, the townspeople go through shaky, manic withdrawals when they do not have it. The world is changing for the town of Greenville the same way it is changing for veteran ad man Ray Crother (Brendan Wahlers) as he sits on a bench in Central Park contemplating the depths of his unhappiness.
In Marcy Wallabout’s production of The Resistible Rise of Fatlinda Paloka and Timothy Dowd’s Crother Spyglass we meet characters struggling to find acceptance, both for themselves and for the people around them. The two partnering plays have completely different stories but similar morals at their hearts. They also share something else - the same strengths and weaknesses.
The play’s strongest elements are their relatable, relevant themes that audiences can empathize with and attach themselves to. Their shared downfall is that the characters are not yet strong enough to shoulder the full weight of these themes.
Dowd’s play, Crother Spyglass, opens the evening, introducing the audience to Ray Crothers. Ray is an unhappy man and he takes that unhappiness out on Adam (Timothy McDonough) a young boy with the kind of earnest naiveté you will only find in a recent college grad.
Adam is eager to do his best in his new job as an assistant. However, his eagerness wanes when Ray tells him the job involves performing domestic tasks for their sadistic boss. Ray has allowed this boss to humiliate him on many occasions and looks forward to seeing those humiliations passed on to someone else.
Adam and another ambitious graduate student named, Christine (Erin Leigh Schmoyer) deliver a respectable message about confidence and self worth. Though they are young, they are able to see their CEO’s ridiculous demands for what they are – ridiculous. When Ray threatens them, “you gotta do what the boss says or you’ll get fired,” they look shocked at his audacity rather than afraid for their jobs.
Christine and Adam are nicely drawn supporting characters but Ray remains a question mark throughout. He is the story’s centerpiece and yet he never develops to the point where we understand why he allows himself to be subjected to this behavior. Why has it taken several years for him to see what these kids realized in an instant? Why has it taken him so long to accept that things need to change?
In the following piece, Wallabout’s The Resistible Rise of Fatlinda Paloka, the character’s need to accept change is much more overt. A wave of immigrants has washed into a small southern town led by the boisterous Fatlinda Paloka.
Fatlinda hints at a mysterious past, yet we never get more than a vague sense of what that past is. We also do not get a clear sense of who she is: a colorful character or a heartless witch? Does her family love and respect her drive to succeed or fear and hate her strong personality? And what should we, the viewer, feel towards her? Is she putting drugs in her pizza or merely displaying some superior cooking skills to bridge the cultural gap? Without knowing her true intentions it is hard to know if we should root for her success or hope for her failure.
Dowd and Wallabout’s plays feel like they have a lot to say, but they haven’t allocated their time well enough to say it. In Crother Spyglass more time is needed to get a handle on Ray Crothers’s true personality, and in The Resistible Rise of Fatlinda too much time is spent on sight gags and side stories that distract from the central plot.
The two productions have important social messages that they are trying to deliver. The themes are there and they are good themes, they just need stronger, clearer main characters to embody them.